From Beginning to
End: Walking the Mississippi River to Celebrate and Cherish Water
by Konnie LeMay - Indian
Country Today Media Network
days into a 1,200-mile trek along one of the longest rivers in the
United Statesthe iconic MississippiSharon Day was looking
to hit mile 125 by days end.
Were at Brainerd, heading south on [state highway]
371, and hope to get close to Little Falls [Minnesota] by tonight,
Day said by cell phone on the morning of International Womens
Day, March 8. She is traveling with a half dozen other walkers who
have joined her from as far as Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, for the
Mississippi Water Walk.
Weve walked through a snowstorm the other day,
she said, adding that more snow was expected this weekend. Soon,
though, she cut the conversation short.
I need to go now, Day said politely but firmly.
I have to walk.
The Mississippi Water Walk began on March 1 at Lake Itasca in
north-central Minnesota. The lake was frozen, but Day filled a copper
bucket with the chilled water that bubbles over the rocks as the
water leaves the lakethe headwaters of the eventually grand
Mississippi River. Around her, people gathered for blessing ceremonies,
and then Day, her sister Dorene Day and their supporters began the
1,200-mile, two-month-long journey along the length of the Mississippi
River. Their mission: to call attention to water quality issues
for all of Mother Earths waters.
Well follow the Mississippi as closely as we can,
and well be walking, said Sharon Day, who is leading
the walk, in an interview before setting out. Sharon plans to travel
the complete route, while others may join her periodically. In Iowa,
one woman plans to ride alongside on horseback, Day said.
The whole idea is to raise awareness, aside from the spiritual
purpose, she said.
Day is not unfamiliar with this river route. In 2011 she carried
water from the Gulf of Mexico northward along the Mississippi to
mingle with waters of the other four directions as part of the final
Earth Water Walk, a project started in 2003 by two Anishinaabe
grandmothers to walk first around
Lake Superior and eventually around all of the Great Lakes.
That culminated in 2011 with walks starting from Hudson Bay, the
Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Gulf of Mexico. Those walks,
too, of which this years walk is an outgrowth, called attention
to the needs of water, a living entity that must be cared for as
it cares for us, organizers said.
This year again Day is carrying a copper bucket of water drawn
from Lake Itasca, the source of the Mississippi, that she will pour
out at its mouth some 1,200 miles south.
This time well take the water from the headwaters,
where it is still clean and pure, and all along the way where it
enters the Gulf, she said. There they will mingle the cleaner
water with the much-stressed waters at the mouth, bringing it a
message, perhaps, of hope for its future and memories of its origins.
Day found in 2011 that carrying the water became one of her
most sacred tasks. She had contemplated taking time out from the
walk, letting others take portions of it, as she went back and forth
to her work as executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task
Force in Minneapolis.
Then Josephine Mandamin, one of the Ojibwe grandmothers who
started the Water Walks, told her about the buckets of water each
group had carried in 2011.
Weve taken this water from its home, and weve
orphaned it, and it will join the other waters, converse with them,
and then make its way back homewho know how long, Mandamin
told her. And now we have to take care of it.
Day told ICTMN that she gazed down at the bucket of water in
her lap as she and her sister drove around a heavy-construction
area near Memphis, and she realized she could not leave it for others
You know how you hold a child on your lap, you have certain
feeling about it, she said. Thats what I experienced
with the water I couldnt leave that water. I had to
see it all the way through.
And Day did carry it that year, to the Bad River Reservation
in Wisconsin, where all the waters were mingled into Lake Superior.
This year Sharon and Dorene will walk together on some of the route,
though Dorene will need return home home periodically and rejoin
the group at different points along the route.
Sharon Days last trip taught her that water issues are
familiar to people, but conducting this walk and calling more attention
to the issues of clean, quality water is a never-ending task.
I think people are becoming more aware, but there is so
much we still have to do, she said. Here in Minnesota,
the land of 10,000 lakes, our water, aquifers, are drying up because
we are using so much of the water, and it doesnt get recycled.
She recalled, too, a grandmother in Wisconsin who handed her
a crochet square on her last water walk.
Every stitch was a prayer, the way every step is a prayer
for you, the grandmother from Black River Falls told her in
making the gift and encouraging Days journey. My well
water is contaminated.
Just after the 2011 walk, Day recalled a few uncomfortable incidents
along the route, but now, she said, she only remembers the support
and the sincere questions she got. On one memorable stop, she and
Dorene were eating a sandwich outside a Missouri gas station when
a tough looking crew of all-white, all-male construction workers
arrived. They asked the women about what they were doing and listened
to them explain their intent to call attention to water issues.
The men then took up a donation and gave the women $25.
Walk slow and pray hard, they told the sisters,
because our water is contaminated.
Such encounters inspired Day to walk again, to honor and help
Those are the things, she said, that made
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